Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Culture Minister Miri Regev of the Likud party on Wednesday called for the application of Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank city of Hebron.
Speaking at a ceremony marking the 90-year anniversary of the 1929 Hebron massacre, in which Arab rioters killed 67 Jewish residents, Edelstein voted to “turn it into a full-blown city of Israel.”
“The time has come for the Jewish settlement in Hebron to grow to thousands of residents,” he said.
Some 800 Jewish settlers and 200,000 Palestinians live in Hebron.
The IDF closed down streets and increased its troop presence in the city ahead of Wednesday’s event, which was attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"There is no better time to announce Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, and no better place than here, #Hebron and the Tombs of Forefathers & Mothers – the place of the first purchase of Abraham in the land of Israel." @regev_miri at 1929 Memorial in presence of @netanyahu pic.twitter.com/10ymwJgIhv
— Yishai Fleisher ???? ישי פליישר (@YishaiFleisher) September 4, 2019
Culture Minister Regev echoed Edelstein, reminding Netanyahu in her remarks that he had pledged to extend Israeli sovereignty to settlements in the West Bank.
“There is no better place to start bringing that pledge into fruition than Hebron,” she said. “If there’s no Hebron there’s no Tel Aviv. The right of Tel Aviv’s existence is rooted in Hebron where Abraham and Sarah are buried,” she continued, referring to the biblical figures believed to be buried in the city’s Tomb of the Patriarchs.
Speaking to elementary school students in the settlement of Elkana on Sunday, Netanyahu vowed to extend “Jewish sovereignty” to all settlements in the West Bank — a move tantamount to annexation — in an effort to shore up right-wing support some two weeks ahead of the September 17 Knesset elections.
While Netanyahu did not respond directly respond to Edelstein and Regev’s calls for annexation, he told the ceremony that Jews were “not strangers in Hebron — and we will never leave it.”
He also lauded the Palestinian residents of Hebron who “risked their lives” to save Jews during the 1929 Hebron massacre.
It was the first time Netanyahu visited the volatile city since 1998, according to Israeli media.
Democratic Camp leader Nitzan Horowitz blasted the prime minister’s decision to appear in Hebron, accusing him of making “contemptible” use of the 1929 massacre for political ends and of trying to lure followers of the late American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane into the Knesset “in order to annex the territories.”
He was referring to Netanyahu’s efforts to broker political deals between small right-wing parties and the Kahanist, far-right Otzma Yehudit.
“In all of the places in the state of Israel, Bibi has chosen to come to the capital of Kahanism, to strengthen the most extreme and racist settlement in the territories,” said the left-wing leader.
In a tweet marking the massacre, US Ambassador David Friedman commented that the killing occurred “long before the creation of the State of Israel & the Six Day War. Important lesson: Terrorism is always about hatred & violence; never about vindicating political grievances.”
Today Israel observes 90 yrs since Hebron Massacre-67 Jews murdered & many more wounded. This attack was long before the creation of the State of Israel & the Six Day War. Important lesson: Terrorism is always about hatred & violence; never about vindicating political grievances
— David M. Friedman (@USAmbIsrael) September 4, 2019
President Reuven Rivlin was also in the West Bank city on Wednesday, though he did not attend the ceremony due to scheduling conflicts.
In 1929, “the City of the Patriarchs became the city of murder. The ancient Jewish community, which had been part of the city for centuries, was wiped out,” said Rivlin at a separate event at the Tomb the Patriarchs on Wednesday.
“Here in Hebron, the City of the Patriarchs, in a cave that was bought for full price, our right to this land was established as just and moral, a right to property over which is and will always be uncontestable,” he said, referring to the biblical narrative of Abraham’s purchase of the site. “From that time and until the brutal massacre of 1929, the city was one of the four holy cities with continuous Jewish settlement that was renewed again after the victory in the Six Day War.”
“Hebron is not a barrier to peace. It is a test of our ability to live together, Jews and Arabs, to live decent lives side by side,” he continued.
“The State of Israel must promote quality of life for all residents of the area, to assure that Hebron and Kiryat Arba grow and flourish, and to establish new neighborhoods.”
Hebron has been the site of regular unrest. In 1994, Israeli Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Muslim worshippers there with an assault rifle before being beaten to death by survivors.